On August 20, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Moscow and met with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Merkel, who speaks Russian, steps down after next month’s elections, ending 16 years as Germany’s leader.
Merkel’s visit coincided with the anniversary of last year’s poisoning of leading Putin political rival Alexey Navalny, allegedly with the involvement of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).
Navalny has been in a Russian jail since January, when he returned after medical treatment in Germany. For leaving the country, he was convicted of a probation violation – a prosecution that the U.S., Merkel and others say was political.
Russia denies poisoning Navalny or jailing him for retribution, and Putin was asked about it at a joint news conference following the Merkel summit.
“Regarding the fugitive you’ve mentioned, thus he is convicted not for his political activity but for committing a crime,” he said. Then, turning to the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, he said:
“When people entered the Congress after the well-known elections in the U.S., they came with political demands after which more than 100 criminal cases had been launched against them. Judging by the charges against them, they are facing long term imprisonment – from 15 to 20-25 years and maybe longer.”
That is false. There is no equivalence between Navalny and the Capitol mob.
The rioters who stormed the building do face criminal charges, but not for their political views. The charges are related to the destruction and violence they perpetrated – and that resulted in deaths and scores of injuries to police from the rampaging crowd.
The U.S. Justice Department’s investigation has led to 615 criminal cases against people in the mob. Of those, about 40 have pleaded guilty, some facing potential prison sentences of three to four years. Others have been given probationary terms for minor offenses, the Voice of America reported on August 24.
The department has been struggling to bring the riot cases to court because investigators have been overwhelmed by the bulk of evidence, NPR reported.
Many rioters took photos and videos of themselves and others with cellphones and shared them on social media. The media files have been critical in identifying the rioters and the role they played, NPR said.
To help speed up the progress, prosecutors have informally put the accused into three categories, NPR reported, citing sources in the investigation.
These include “tourist cases” for those who entered the Capitol but were nonviolent; people who broke in and did damage; and right-wing extremists.
The question of whether the Capitol riot was preplanned remains unanswered, The New York Times reported on June 30. For its part, the Times’ visual investigations team reviewed “thousands of videos” from social media, surveillance, and police body cameras to analyze the events of January 6.
“By identifying and tracking key players throughout the day, we found that most — even some at the forefront of the action — were ardent, but disorganized Trump supporters swept up in the moment and acting individually,” the Times concluded.
The Times reported that the crowd included groups “who seemed eager for a confrontation, like well-organized militias and far-right groups including the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.”
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had “scant evidence” that the attack on the U.S. Capitol was coordinated, Reuters reported on August 20.
Navalny has served about seven months of a two-year prison term. Rights groups say the fraud offense for which he was on probation was bogus and politically motivated. Navalny had been reporting to probation officials but was in a coma when he was flown to Germany for treatment after the poisoning.
Russian authorities claimed they had to arrest Navalny on his return to Moscow because he “systematically and repeatedly violated” his probation, the Russian independent news site Meduza reported.
In June, the Russian government banned all organizations involved with Navalny’s anti-corruption efforts, labeling them extremist.
On the anniversary of his poisoning, Navalny wrote a commentary published simultaneously by mainstream newspapers in the U.K., Germany and France.
He accused Putin’s government of widespread corruption and referred to his experience with dark irony.
“When a country’s senior management is preoccupied with protection rackets and extortion from businesses, the quality of covert operations inevitably suffers,” Navalny wrote. “A group of FSB agents applied the nerve agent to my underwear just as shoddily as they incompetently dogged my footsteps for three and a half years.”
Alexey Navalny's anti-corruption team published this video titled "Putin's Palace. The Story of the World's Biggest Bribe" after Navalny was arrested in Moscow upon his return from Germany in January.
Marking the anniversary of Navalny’s poisoning, on August 20 the United States and Britain imposed additional sanctions targeting the Russian FSB. The sanctions named seven top Russian government officials allegedly involved in the poisoning.
“The Kremlin’s use of chemical weapons to silence a political opponent and intimidate others demonstrates its flagrant disregard for international norms,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.